Science History Meeting

Visitor of the Week: Megan Povelones

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Meet Megan Povelones of Penn State Brandywine. Since 2012, the assistant professor in biology has been running her lab alongside a technician and handful of undergraduates. Megan is on campus for The Evolving Concept of Mitochondria: From Symbiotic Origins to Therapeutic Origins meeting where she presented a poster entitled “The single mitochondrion of the kinetoplastid parasite Crithidia fasciculata is a dynamic network”.

What are your research interests? What are you working on?
I study how single-celled parasites called kinetoplastids adapt their mitochondrial shape and function to survive in different hosts. As early-diverging eukaryotes, these mechanisms may reveal shared properties of mitochondrial networks in a variety of organisms.

How did you decide to make this the focus of your research?
In graduate school I was studying mitochondrial DNA replication in Trypanosoma brucei, the causative agent of African sleeping sickness. In a genetic screen for replication defects, I by chance discovered a protein that altered mitochondrial shape. It fascinated me that the kinetoplastid mitochondrion had such an unusual shape (a single branched network in each cell) and that this shape was developmentally regulated, but that the proteins required for maintenance and remodeling of mitochondrial structure were completely unknown.

How did your scientific journey begin?
I was lucky to have fantastic mentors starting with a dynamic high school chemistry teacher, Mary Fuller. She loved science, adventure, travel, and rode a Harley, so clearly I wanted to be just like her. I read a lot of popular science books in high school, primarily about infectious diseases and epidemiology. I began my graduate studies thinking I wanted to be a virologist, but after rotating in a parasitology lab I was amazed by their complexity and beautiful cell biology and have been working on kinetoplastids ever since. My graduate mentor, Paul Englund -- an amazing scientist, mentor, and generally good person -- inspired me with his passion for science, scientific rigor, and the remarkable clarity with which he thought about and communicated scientific ideas.

Was there something specific about The Evolving Concept of Mitochondria: From Symbiotic Origins to Therapeutic Opportunities meeting that drew you to attend?
As a parasitologist, I welcomed the opportunity to attend a meeting focused on mitochondria. I was also drawn to the idea of a meeting that is a mix of historical retrospectives and current, cutting-edge developments. I enjoy learning about the history of science and the people who made it happen. My undergraduate students enjoy hearing these stories too, and I look forward to sharing some of what I’ve learned in the classroom.

What is your key takeaway from the meeting?
As this is a historical meeting, some of the speakers are sharing an overview of their work as it has developed over the course of their career. At this level, it is clear that while they are all brilliant scientists, there is a considerable amount of resilience, persistence, and luck that is required for success in science. This can be an important message, particularly for trainees and young scientists.

What did you pick up or learn from the meeting that you plan to apply to your work?
I’m interested in mitochondrial remodeling reactions within the single mitochondrial network of kinetoplastid parasites. At this meeting, I’ve seen the work of others who have used markers for specific mitochondrial compartments and super-resolution microscopy techniques to provide detailed insights into these processes. This is something I’m eager to apply to my system to learn if fusion and fission in kinetoplastid mitochondrial networks is mechanistically similar to that in mammals.

If someone curious in attending one of our future history meetings asked you for feedback or advice on it, what would you tell him/her?
I would say it is a great opportunity to learn the history of a field while getting caught up on the latest research. You get to hear directly from those who made landmark discoveries, and you will come away with a greater appreciation for the process of science.

What do you like most about your time at CSHL?
It’s very pretty here. I like seeing the water everywhere I walk, and all the sculptures. I also like seeing the names and pictures of famous scientists everywhere. It really feels like being part of a community. It’s great to be at a place where science is so prevalent and so celebrated.

Thank you to Megan for being this week's featured visitor. To meet other featured scientists - and discover the wide range of science that takes part in a CSHL meeting or course - go here.